This I Believe

Patrice - Grand Coteau, Louisiana
Entered on March 3, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: carpe diem
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Buy a Raincoat

I believe that if I step into my fear of the unknown, I will survive and ultimately flourish.

When I was an undergraduate in Austin, Texas, I heard about students who went to Southeast Alaska in the summer to work in the fish canneries. I had seen beautiful wildlife footage of Alaska in National Geographic TV specials. I imagined myself standing on the shore watching a humpback whale breach the shimmering ocean surface.

I told friends that I was thinking of going to Alaska for the summer, testing for reactions. My neighbor said she heard it costs over a thousand dollars to fly to Alaska. Another acquaintance said that in Southeast Alaska, it rains constantly, she had heard. Now I envisioned myself watching a pod of orcas in the bay as I stood on the shore penniless, starving, and drenched in rain.

One spring afternoon, that same year, I met an art student who worked on fishing boats out of Ketchikan and Sitka in Southeast Alaska.

“Is it really expensive there?” I asked.

“You might live on bologna sandwiches at first,” he said.

I can do that, I thought. “I heard it rains all the time,” I said.

“Yeah,” he slouched, hands in his pockets, “buy yourself a real good rain coat.”

A raincoat! So logical.

From there, things began to fall into place. At the time, a Greyhound bus could take me to Seattle for $200 and the Bellingham Ferry could bring me to Sitka for another $175. To avoid paying for a cabin, young travelers often slept on the ferry deck in sleeping bags beneath the heat lamps of the solarium. I could do that, I thought.

Once I got to Alaska that summer, I landed a series of jobs on fishing vessels. I learned to gaff and clean a salmon and when the rain fell every day, I wore my raincoat. One moment that stays with me from that year was when a humpback whale swam beside the boat I was working on. It spewed through it’s blowhole and I smelled the fishy odor of the spray that dampened my cheek. I felt as though I was alive for the first time.

Perhaps fear of suffering keeps us from seeing simple solutions, like getting a raincoat. Had I not tried to figure out a way to go to Alaska, I would have missed the sight of the whale’s broad back rising to the surface and that briny scent.

Since then, twenty-two years later, when I feel hesitant about the unknown, like a new job, or even a party where I don’t know anyone, I try to step into my fear. I believe that I will find a way to negotiate problems I encounter and that the new experiences will make my life richer.